Peace on Earth

The colonel smiled at the Indian major, who turned abruptly and ordered his men to open fire on the enemy Front, barely sixty yards from where they now peered up over the trench they were in. Most of the soldiers of the Eighth Gurkhas and the Fifth Jats were not much taller than five and half feet, if that, and the trenches, dug by many six foot plus Englanders and Irishmen, afforded them plenty of room. There were still a dozen or more members of the London Rifle Brigade present and the colonel turned towards them. “Now that you’ve seen how it tiz done blokes—get at it.”

One of the Brigades’ sergeants stood to take a shot and was rewarded with a bullet through his left eye and he fell back and landed on the lap of Private Sammy Baldwin, who jumped, as the sergeant’s brains splattered his coat and part of his face. He dropped the dead corpse, and the firing commenced all around him. He stood up and stumbled down the trench, then began running, the thick, murky clay-like mud slowing him down considerably, as bullets dug up the dirt everywhere. He finally slid on a frozen patch of ground and hit his head on a large boulder, slipping into a state of unconsciousness.

#

Oberleutnant Laufenberg saw the soldier, sitting upright and recognized him immediately, thinking ‘what a coincidence that the first soldier I see is the one I am searching for.’ He crouched down, as bullets chopped up the dirt around him. Not realizing that his unit had been replaced by Prussians, he thought his own men must be firing and couldn’t understand what had happened to the truce.

#

Sammy Baldwin opened his eyes and his head spun; where was he? Then, he heard the firing and bullets cutting up the earth several yards behind him. He grabbed his rifle and sat up, then shivered reflexively, as his wartime senses alerted him that there was someone nearby. He leveled his rifle, just as the German officer came into view and he was reaching into his greatcoat when Sammy instinctively fired, hitting the approaching Oberleutnant in the chest. Baldwin struggled to a standing position and his eyes became saucers when he saw who it was. He staggered over and bent down to cradle the lieutenant’s head under his arm, then gasped when Laufenberg smiled at him. “Sammy, don’t vorry it vasn’t your vault—zoo didn’t know it vas me.”

Tears streamed down Baldwin’s face and he shivered when the German lieutenant opened his hand and the promised belt buckle fell out, as his head then fell backwards limply. Baldwin took the buckle out of his hand and felt for a pulse, first on the lieutenant’s wrist then on his neck and knew there was nothing that could be done, not for a dead man. Death was, once again, all around him. He tried to pick up the lieutenant’s body and finally settled on dragging it towards the shallow part of the trench, where he stood the body upright, then bent down and slung it onto his shoulder. He stood upright to begin his journey towards No Man’s Land, when bullets began cutting up everything around him, including the body he was carrying. It flew from his shoulders, as he slipped sideways and then turned just in time to catch a bullet in the left side of his helmet, instead of squarely in his forehead. Nevertheless, it penetrated the metal and imbedded itself inside his cranium. He fell on top of Oberleutnant Wilhelm Laufenberg’s corpse and he remembered the belt buckle and vowed to never forget what it had cost him. Then he sank, once again, into a state of unconsciousness, this time an ever-darkening, all-encompassing unconsciousness.

EPILOGUE

THE BELT BUCKLE





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